Camp Springs Bluegrass Festival 2020 a go

Cody Johnson, with sign depicting his dad, the late Bill Johnson, as he appeared in Bluegrass Country Soul.

It happened! Cody and Donna Johnson, new owners of Camp Springs Bluegrass Park, labored diligently throughout the spring and summer, and were allowed to host their Labor Day weekend bluegrass festival at the restored park near Reidsville, NC. With most live music venues cancelled, this festival (marking 51 years since Carlton Haney held the first one) survived by the Johnsons meeting guidelines in the Tarheel State for a religious event and working closely with local authorities. 

“We held a worship service on Sunday morning plus had great bluegrass and Gospel music throughout the weekend. We were dedicated to provide a safe and clean environment and follow all guidelines,” Cody stressed.

Masks were available at the gate. Signs were posted. Hand sanitizer stations were in place. Camp sites, 25′ x 40′, were marked with painted lines to allow for social distancing between campers.

Performers and attendees were ecstatic to experience the joy of live music that has been silenced during the 2020 pandemic.

“This is the first festival that I’ve been to in a year,” stated Racy Maness of Asheboro, NC, who camped at the festival site.

Maness’ friend, Travis Brady, agreed. “It’s great to be back.”

Troy Pope of Deeper Shade of Blue shared the musicians’ sentiment from the stage. “It’s good to have live music again.”

Camp Springs was the site of the first bluegrass festival held in North Carolina, on Labor Day weekend in 1969. Gracing the stage were bluegrass pioneers Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, the Osborne Brothers, and Ralph Stanley performing alongside newer bands of the era like The Country Gentlemen, Seldom Scene, and New Grass Revival. The movie, Bluegrass Country Soul, recorded at that location in 1971, depicts much of the star studded line-up. A newly constructed, larger stage sits on the foundation of the original.

During this past weekend’s performance, Russell Moore of IIIrd Tyme Out, referenced the original I-Beam that loomed above the performers and served as a reminder of its legendary past. “Earl Scruggs stood right under this.”

Cindy Baucom of Knee Deep in Bluegrass served as the festival’s emcee. On Saturday night, she expressed, “Isn’t it wonderful being under the stars at Camp Springs enjoying bluegrass?”

The radio personality also shared with the audience a text she received from Tony Rice who had been a regular performer at the festival in ’70s.

“Sending you all a message to the Camp Springs Bluegrass Park where it all began, launching music careers and new bands. I would like to send you scripture I use as a prayer every single day. ‘Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God and the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.’ Just in case no one told you they love you today… I do and I mean that with all my heart. Your Brother, T.”

Deeper Shade of Blue dobroist, Frank Poindexter, relayed his own memories from the stage. “50 years ago I was here with my nephew, Tony Rice, as attendees. Tony met Sam Bush, and left here as a member of Bluegrass Alliance and I left here and got married.”

With a field full of socially distanced campers, and a hillside of attentive music lovers, everyone enjoyed a return to a music filled weekend. Performers included Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, the Grascals, Terry Baucom’s Dukes of Drive, the Cleverlys, plus many more. As during the original festival, up and coming youth bands performed. Two young bands, the Moores and Uwharrie Drive (which included 14 year old guitarist, Jake Goforth), entertained on Saturday.

Following Uwharrie Drive’s performance, Baucom noted, “They have a passion for bluegrass music. Our music keeps going.”

Promoter, Cody Johnson, concluded, “I have been praying for good weather for a long time, and it was perfect: low 80s and sunny. I want to thank my wife, Donna, and kids, Chase (18) and Faith (16), for understanding all the hours I’ve missed with them to resurrect the park. We are not finished expanding the grounds and hope to have more power sites ready by next year. Plans are already underway for 2021 which is the 50th anniversary of the 1971 movie, Bluegrass Country Soul. We hope to make this a premiere destination festival for years to come. I also want to thank everyone that helped make this year a success.”

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.